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Roger Cox: Credit to Surfer’s environmental stance

The very atoll Kelly Slater is sitting on could be underwater in a few short years. Picture: Getty

The very atoll Kelly Slater is sitting on could be underwater in a few short years. Picture: Getty

  • by ROGER COX
 

THE surfing Bible’s showcase summer issue has food for thought on the climate change debate

I’ve found it hard to warm to Surfer magazine’s latest editor, Brendon Thomas, largely because he insists on running a regular feature entitled “Masthead” in the opening few pages, which gives readers the opportunity to ogle an anonymous, scantily clad sea nymph. (Hey Brendon – here’s an idea: why not start using the Masthead slot to run pictures of the best female surfers in the world, y’know, actually surfing?)

Anyway, credit where it’s due: I was delighted to see that Thomas had dedicated the whole of this year’s August “Big Issue” edition of the mag to matters environmental. There were no hemp-sandals-will-save-the-word half measures, either; the cover line simply read “Oceans Under Siege: Climate Change and the Harsh Realities of Surfing’s Future.” No question of a spurious “climate change debate” going on here, the message was straightforward: this is something real, and it’s happening now.

For the few Scotsman readers who may be unfamiliar with Surfer – founded all the way back in 1960 and known to surfers worldwide as “the Bible of the sport” – the Big Issue is the annual, bumper-sized fantasy edition of the magazine. The pages are about a third bigger than usual, making this the obvious showcase for the year’s best photography, and there are more of them, which means plenty of big reads with which to while away the long flat spells between feeble summer swells.

The huge amount of advertising the Big Issue carries suggests it’s probably the most profitable edition of Surfer, too, which makes Thomas’s decision to turn this year’s version into an environment special all the more admirable. Given how many Americans are still in denial about man-made climate change, any editor of a non-political US publication who uses his flagship edition to state, as Thomas does in his surprisingly forceful editorial, that “if you think the burning of fossil fuels has no effect on the atmosphere, you’re delusional,” runs the risk of alienating about half their readers.

I’ve no doubt Thomas will receive all kinds of flak for what he’s done from legions of heads-in-the-sand SUV drivers, but posterity will judge him favourably. And who knows? Perhaps in a few years’ time, when major US cities like Miami start to disappear beneath the waves and those same SUV drivers suddenly find they need to commute to work by boat, even they may concede that he had a point after all.

In stark contrast to Thomas, one person who comes out of Surfer’s Big Issue shockingly badly is 11-time world champ and all-around surf god Kelly Slater. One of the aforementioned “big reads” is a double interview with Slater and his longtime friend and big wave specialist, Shane Dorian, conducted on an unnamed “remote Pacific Atoll” in which they talk about “the current state of the oceans, and how we as surfers can make a difference”.

Anyone expecting Slater to use his status as surfing’s greatest living legend to call for, say, surfers to cut down on their fossil fuel consumption by flying less, however, will have been disappointed.

When asked, “Are you a climate change believer” Slater responds “I’m sceptical on all sides of the debate” and then follows up with the typical, wilfully ignorant climate denier’s conflation of weather and climate: “I know I woke up today and it’s a lot colder than it was yesterday!”

Later, the interviewer asks: “When it comes to environmental matters, should surfers be judged by higher standards because we’re so connected to the environment?” to which Slater replies, “It should be implicit, because we’re observers of the natural world.”

Poor Kelly – made to look like a moron in his sport’s most august publication; sitting there on an atoll that took him four flights and two boat journeys to get to and telling the kids reading back home that man-made climate change may not be happening even when – as the interviewer points out – the very atoll he’s sitting on could be underwater in a few short years, thanks in part to his own elephantine carbon footprint. Hopefully, Slater will read Brendon Thomas’s editorial pronto, realise how much damage he’s just done to his reputation, and make amends. Time’s a wastin’.

 

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